The moon forgot to shine the day she left.
The night before, I remember waking up and wandering over to look out the window. The floor should’ve been cold, but my fuzzy socks kept me warm. The teddy bear clenched tight in the crook of my elbow kept me safe from the fact that I would soon be alone. As I looked up at the stars, considered their patterns, I wondered what she was doing right now. A thin sliver of light had been glowing from beneath her door when I’d been sent to bed. The sound of jazz had crept out too, but I may have imagined it, and now I was here, staring out this window as the last thin sliver of the moon embossed the edges of the grass and the stubborn picket fence. The same fence that had stood there year after year, through snows and rains and pleasant sunshine, always leading the way to the top of the hill.
A single tree stood there. Even though I couldn’t make out much in the dark, I could imagine every detail of its bark underneath my fingers. That tree had held our tire swing, tolerated the weight of countless forts we leaned against it. We’d practically grown up together, the two of us and that tree.
I remember one autumn day, who knows how long ago. I was sprawled out on the porch, surrounded by a sea of markers and crayons with a coloring book flattened in front of me. But then she’d called my name, and the sea scattered. Markers rolled off the edge of the deck and into the grass, forgotten as I flew down the porch steps and up the hill to the tree. She was standing beneath it, her head tilted way back, watching something in the upper branches. I scuffed my way through the waves of fallen leaves until I’d made it to her side.
“What?” I joined her in looking up at the sky.
“See there? That’s the last leaf.”
It didn’t look very spectacular, that leaf. It was only a scrap of amber still clinging to its perch. The sun lit it up until it shone like gold, like the glossy photographs in the coffee table books that I wasn’t allowed to use for my collages. But we stood there, the two of us, watching that stubborn leaf until the breeze finally caught it and carried it away. My sister looked after it for a long moment. A cloud seemed to cross her face, an emotion I didn’t know how to describe.
And she turned and trudged back down the hill.
That night, I couldn’t sleep even after two bedtime stories, so I laid there in bed, twirling my finger around and around the ragged edge of my blanket. It was my fault that it was like that; my nervous habit had slowly undone the stitching. Without really thinking it through, I swung my feet out of bed and padded down the stairs, blanket trailing behind me. For once, the screen door let me go without whining, as if it understood that I had something important to do.
My blanket dragged behind me, caught on the grass, picking up sticks and dirt and dew as I went. The spindly shadows of the tree branches stretched to cover me. And then I stood beneath it, looking up at the last piece of the moon and the branch where the leaf used to be. I stood there for a good long while. No matter how long I stared, I still couldn’t figure out why she’d looked so sad to see that leaf go. When the edge of the horizon started to lighten, I turned and headed back inside, the screen door swinging silent behind me. My parents wouldn’t notice the extra dirt and leaves on my blanket; I took it everywhere.
The morning of Leaving Day brought a flurry of activity. Suitcases piled up by the door, feet endlessly pounded up and down the stairs, and I sat forgotten in the middle of the chaos, watching my cereal turn to mush in its bowl. The feeling of someone ruffling my hair told me my sister had come into the kitchen.
“Hello.” I gave the chair across from me a good kick. “Why are you going?”
“I’ve already told you, silly. I need to go to school. You gonna be okay here while I’m gone?”
No, said my brain, no I will not. But I tried to give her a smile anyway.
She finished pouring her coffee and floated back out again, ruffling my hair as she left. I gave the chair one more kick then wandered upstairs to stare out the window. The tree waved at me, and down the hill beneath my window, I could see my sister’s car in the driveway. Its trunk was open; my sister laughed at something Mom said and crammed in another bag next to the others. Without realizing it, I started worrying the edge of my blanket again, around and around and around.
All of the details of the world were more noticeable than usual that morning. I could feel every line of the floorboards under my toes; the sound of my blanket dragging behind me almost seemed to echo. I could have been doing anything else, but I sat there on the laundry room floor, legs crossed, doodling invisible pictures on the tile while the clothes in the wash went around and around and around.
The shadows grew longer until they had almost reached the porch. I could feel them creeping into the house, too. They wrapped around me and made me feel cold and sad.
“Bea! Come say goodbye.”
The shadows weighted my feet, but I dragged myself to the door anyway. There stood my parents, eyes almost glowing with pride. And my sister. My beautiful sister. She never cried or let people know she was sad, so there she stood, radiant. When she turned to face me, it was like looking at a sunrise.
“I got you something.”
She smiled, kinda confused, and then put her hands to her mouth. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen her speechless.
“So you can take me with you.”
She took my blanket, rolled up and tied with a lacy ribbon, and hugged it to her chest. When she looked back at me, she had tears in her eyes.
I’d tried to stand still, but I couldn’t do it anymore. I crashed into her and held on like I wouldn’t ever let go.
“Please don’t leave.”
“I’ll miss you every day. And I pinky promise I’ll keep your blanket on my bed. That’ll be the first picture I send you. Okay?”
I don’t remember watching her drive away. I don’t remember what I did the rest of that day. The only thing I remember was her eyes. Those bright green eyes, filled with tears.
The moon forgot to shine the day she left. That night, just like I’d done on an autumn night so long ago, the screen door let me out, and the old picket fence led me up the hill to our tree. Everything look different without the moon. The only light came from the stars, leaving everything else draped in a dark velvety cloak. Everything looked sad, like it missed her too. I hadn’t remembered it being this cold before, but maybe it was because I didn’t have my blanket anymore. I looked up, and if I squinted real hard, I could imagine where the moon should have been, and the branch that had belonged to the last leaf. And for one moment, I knew my sister’s sadness.